COVID-19 Update: Certain USCIS Field Offices Plan to Reopen to the Public

As of June 4, some USCIS Field Offices are planning to reopen for in-person services to the public. The Application Support Centers plan to reopen later. The Field Offices and Application Support Centers have been closed to the public since March 18, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reopening of certain USCIS Field Offices will allow the scheduling and rescheduling of interviews for green cards, naturalization, and other U.S. immigration benefits. Biometrics appointment scheduling and rescheduling will also resume when the Application Support Centers reopen.

USCIS is following the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to protects its employees and the public. USCIS intends to limit the number of appointments and interviews per day, regularly clean and sanitize its facilities, and restrict the number of persons in waiting rooms.

USCIS’ Health & Safety Guidelines

USCIS provided the following guidelines when visiting their offices.

  • You may not enter a USCIS facility if you:
    • Have any symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing;
    • Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
    • Have been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.
  • You may not enter the facility more than 15 minutes prior to your appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies).
  • You are encouraged to use hand sanitizer provided at entry points. 
  • You must wear facial covering (face mask) that covers both the mouth and nose when entering facilities. If you do not have one, USCIS may provide one or you will be asked to reschedule your appointment.
  • You should pay close attention to markings and physical barriers in the facility and follow social distancing guidelines.
  • You may have to answer health screening questions before entering a facility. 
  • You are encouraged to bring your own black or blue ink pens.
  • Individuals are encouraged to bring their own black or blue ink pens.

USCIS will send you an appointment notice when your interview or biometrics appointment is scheduled or rescheduled. The notice will provide more details for visiting USCIS offices. If you feel sick, you are urged to request a cancellation or rescheduling of your appointment.

While USCIS is readying certain offices to reopen on or after June 4, its employees are continuing to perform mission-critical services that do not involve face-to-face contact with the public. Most likely, the earliest date for reopening of some offices will be in July.

The reopening will not only provide relief to applicants, but may help bring much-needed revenue to USCIS. In Mid-May, the agency announced it will run out of money by the summer because the coronavirus pandemic led to a steep drop in applications and filing fees since March. Unlike most federal agencies, USCIS operates almost entirely on revenue from application fees. It requested $1.2 billion from Congress to help it stay afloat, and proposed a 10% surcharge to application fees in the coming months.

Not every application or petition for a U.S. immigration benefit requires a face-to-face interview with a USCIS officer. The USCIS Service Centers are also continuing to accept applications and petitions and issue Receipt Notices and other correspondences, even while Field Offices remain closed to the public.

For the latest information on individual offices, check the USCIS Office Closing page.

###

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SUBSCRIBE           CONTACT

COVID-19 Update: U.S. Travel Suspension Expands to Include Immigrants and Nonimmigrants from Brazil

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one more Presidential Proclamation expanding the suspension of international travel to the United States. With certain exceptions, foreign nationals (immigrants and nonimmigrants) who have been in Brazil during the 14-day period prior to their scheduled arrival will be barred from entering the United States.

As of May 23, the World Health Organization reported that Brazil had 310,087 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which is the third highest number of confirmed cases in the world.

The travel restriction went into effect at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on May 28, 2020. It does not apply to a U.S. citizen or to:

  • a lawful permanent resident of the United States
  • a spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • a parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (who is unmarried and under the age of 21)
  • a sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21)
  • a child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an IR-4 or IH-4 visa
  • a foreign national who is traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus
  • a foreign national who is traveling on a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew
  • a foreign national seeking entry or transit with the following visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories)
  • a foreign national traveling within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement
  • a foreign national whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting, or spreading the virus, as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the CDC Director or his designee
  • a foreign national whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee;
  • a foreign national whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees
  • a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and his/her spouse and children

Click here for a full text of the proclamation.

This is the fifth Presidential Proclamation suspending travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The previous proclamations suspended travel from China, Iran, the Schengen Area, and United Kingdom and Ireland.

As travel suspensions under the Presidential Proclamations continue, the U.S. Embassies and Consulates remain closed for routine visa services. The U.S. Department of State has yet to announce procedures for reopening the Embassies and Consulates. Except for emergency services, most embassies and consulates are not currently scheduling in-person appointments.

For updates, check the individual website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your area. Each embassy and consulate will schedule and reschedule visa interview appointments on its own timeline. Following the resumption of routine services, Immigrant Visa applicants will receive a new interview notice. In nonimmigrant visa cases, you will typically need to initiate the scheduling with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

###

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SUBSCRIBE           CONTACT

Co-Presenting Ethics CLE Session, on Sineneng-Smith Case, at 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Virtual Conference, Friday, May 29

The State of Minnesota is about to complete its second week of transitioning from a stay-at-home order to a stay-safe order. More businesses can start to re-open to the public, with certain restrictions, as early as June 1 in the midst of COVID-19.

At the same time, protests over the death of George Floyd on Monday — while he was in Minneapolis Police custody — evolved into riots, looting and arson in the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities) area this week. 

In times of chaos and uncertainty, it can be hard to stay grounded, maintain calm, move forward, and appreciate the now. But being fully present is what we must do to keep our center when there is much to fear and grieve. 

Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, writes: “The state of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.”

Many businesses, including law firms, are operating remotely in some or all aspects during the pandemic. Although various events and conferences were canceled or postponed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, others are continuing as planned, but virtually. 

On Friday, May 29, from 8 am to 5 pm, the 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Conference will be presented via Zoom, instead of through the in-person event in Downtown Minneapolis that was originally planned. Organized by the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and The Advocates for Human Rights for the Upper Midwest, this year’s virtual conference sessions will provide critical practice updates and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit to immigration attorneys.

This full-day, multi-track virtual CLE will give registered participants access to up to 6 live credit hours and to all sessions on-demand. Attendees may choose sessions individually among four different tracks — Employment, Humanitarian, Litigation and Fundamentals — and are not tied to any one category. 

I am scheduled to co-present with attorneys Alan Goldfarb and Eric Cooperstein at Session 4: “Ethics in Light of the Sineneng-Smith Case” (Employment track) from 2:15 to 3:15 pm. 

On May 7, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 9-0 opinion in this case, which makes immigration lawyers vulnerable to being prosecuted for rendering candid advice to clients who are not in lawful status within the United States. 

Evelyn Sineneng-Smith was convicted of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), which imposes criminal penalties on any person who encourages or induces a person to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, in violation of the law. It does not distinguish between criminal offenses and immigration (civil) violations. 

Sineneng-Smith was an immigration consultant in San Jose, California. She assisted clients working without authorization in the United States to file applications for a labor certification program that once provided a path to adjust to lawful permanent resident status. She knew her clients could not meet the statutory application-filing deadline, but still charged each client over $6,000, netting more than $3.3 million.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) is unconstitutionally overbroad. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court held the Ninth Circuit abused its discretion when it decided this question because it was never raised by the defendant. The Court noted that instead of reviewing the case presented by the parties, the Ninth Circuit invited amici to brief and argue issues framed by the panel, including  “[W]hether the statute of conviction is overbroad . . . under the First Amendment.”

By vacating the decision and remanding the case to the Ninth Circuit, on procedural grounds, the U.S. Supreme Court did not address whether the statute is unconstitutional. This leaves lawyers with ethical dilemmas involving their duty to provide competent representation to clients and their duty to avoid the commission of a federal crime under the encouragement and inducement provision. The session on the Sineneng-Smith case will cover ethics concerns for immigration lawyers in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. 

For a description of the 2020 Upper Midwest Immigration Law Conference program, click here. Although the Early-Bird registration ($75 fee) ended on May 8, you can still register for the full price ($100 fee) up to May 29. To sign up, go to https://www.ailamndak.org/product/uppermidwest2020/

The Sineneng-Smith adds another layer of concern not just for attorneys, but also for persons who need candid advice on their options to gain, extend or change their U.S. immigration status. 

Stay well, stay connected,

Dyan Williams
Immigration & Legal Ethics Attorney 
Dyan Williams Law PLLC

Author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps

The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps (ebook is out!)

As we move ahead into Mother’s Day weekend, another month of the global pandemic, and the 6th week of a stay-at-home order in my home state, Minnesota, I’m glad to say I started and finished writing my book.

The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps is now out in ebook format. This includes PDF (for computers), EPUB (for phones and tablets) and MOBI (for Kindle). You can take a look inside and read sample pages at https://leanpub.com/incrementalist

I wrote the book within a month by working incrementally on it sentence by sentence, page by page, and chapter by chapter, and building on pre-existing content in prior writings. I chipped away at it in limited but focused time blocks, on the edges of core work activities and daily responsibilities.

This creative project pulled me through feelings of stuckness during the last few weeks. As I made my way through it, I was constantly reminded there is healing in grief, possibility in uncertainty, and progress in chaos.

Even though my business and law practice continue to thrive, the world is different. The changes have required logistical shifts, a different mindset, acceptance of what is, and openness to whatever unfolds.

Even when little seems to be going according to plan and much is outside your control, it’s still essential to get your priorities straight, decide on next action steps, and correct course when you veer off track.

In the book, I explain how to become an INCREMENTALIST to create big results, in small steps, without pushing yourself too far beyond your comfort zone, burning out, and feeling inadequate. You can do great work and stretch your limits, gradually and slowly. Incremental progress helps you gain control, master your craft, and seamlessly integrate all that matters to you.

If you’re having trouble gaining traction on a major project or making a significant change in your life, consider reading The Incrementalist and practicing the 5 principles described in the book.

If you like the book or wish to recommend it to friends, family members, colleagues or anyone else who might find it helpful, please share the link at https://leanpub.com/incrementalist.

When you buy the book on Leanpub, you get free updates of any revised versions I publish on that platform. It doesn’t matter when you bought the book or how much you paid.

There is a 45-day 100% happiness guarantee. This means you can get a 100% refund within 45 days of purchase through Leanpub. I won’t know who buys my book or who requests refunds because purchases are made through the Leanpub platform. But if you’d like to send me questions and comments directly, you can do so!

Whether you’re a current client, a former client, a subscriber to one of my e-newsletters, or a reader of any of my blogs, I thank you for your support.

If you read The Incrementalist, let me know the top three things you found most useful and the top three things you’d like me to explain better in the book. I can’t promise I’ll address every question or comment, but I’ll aim to read each one.

In the midst of challenging and uncertain times, you can still create big results in small steps by becoming an Incrementalist!

To your ongoing progress,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
info@dyanwilliamslaw.com

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
 Abraham Lincoln

COVID-19 Update: Impact of Executive Order Temporarily Suspending Some U.S. Immigration for 60 Days, As of April 23

On April 22, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak. The Order becomes effective on April 23 at 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time and is set to expire within 60 days, with a possibility of an extension.

[UPDATE, June 22, 2020: The Trump Administration issued a new Executive Order extending the suspension up to December 31, 2020. See COVID-19 Update: Executive Order Extends Suspension of Entry of Certain Immigrants AND Suspends Entry of H-1B, H-2B, J and L Visa Applicants and Derivative Beneficiaries, Up to December 31.]

Who Does the Executive Order Affect?

For a 60-day period, the Executive Order suspends and limits the entry of persons as intended immigrants (Immigrant Visa applicants) who are:

(a) outside the United States on the effective date;

(b) do not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date; and

(c) do not have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter, a boarding foil, or an advance parole document) that is valid on the effective date or any date thereafter that permits a request for admission at a U.S. port of entry.

If you have an Immigrant Visa dated April 23, 2020 or later — and need to land in the United States to become a permanent resident — you will not be admitted into the country during the 60-day period (i.e. up to June 22, 2020). The exception is if you fall into one of the categories that are exempted from the Order.

Who is Exempted from the Executive Order?

The Order does not prevent the entry of lawful permanent residents who already hold green cards for admission to the United States.

The Order also exempts certain intended immigrants, such as:

(1) Physicians, nurses and other health care professionals seeking to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19, or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak – as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designess – plus their accompanying or following to join spouse and unmarried minor children

(2) Immigrant Investors in the EB5 immigrant visa category

(3) Spouses of U.S. citizens

(4) Minor children (under age 21) of U.S. citizens, or prospective adoptees seeking to enter the United States with an IR-4 or IH-4 visa

(5) Persons whose entry would further U.S. law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee

(6) Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children

(7) Special Immigrant Visas in the SI or SQ classification (i.e. Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters and their spouses and unmarried minor children)

(8) Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees

What is the Stated Purpose of the Executive Order?

Trump said the Executive Order was necessary to protect American workers in an economy severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Between March 1 and April 11, more than that 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment as a result of the global pandemic and related restrictions with behavioral shifts, including closures of “non-essential” businesses and “social distancing” (physical distancing).

The Executive Order states, “We must be mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in an environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor.  We must also conserve critical State Department resources so that consular officers may continue to provide services to United States citizens abroad.”

The Order adds, “lawful permanent residents, once admitted, are granted ‘open-market’ employment authorization documents, allowing them immediate eligibility to compete for almost any job, in any sector of the economy.  There is no way to protect already disadvantaged and unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs from new lawful permanent residents by directing those new residents to particular economic sectors with a demonstrated need not met by the existing labor supply. ” 

What is the Impact of the Executive Order?

While the Executive Order temporarily suspends the entry of some persons who seek to enter the U.S. as immigrants, it exempts certain immigrant visa categories. It does not apply to the K-1 fiancee(e) category, which is a quasi-immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. It also does not prevent the filing of I-130 and I-140 petitions or the processing of such immigrant petitions by USCIS.

Furthermore, delays are already occurring due to global travel restrictions as well as cancellations and unavailability of visa interviews at U.S. Embassies and Consulates related to COVID-19.

The Executive Order will have little immediate impact on intended immigrants — unless U.S. Embassies and Consulates were to restart normal operations, such as scheduling visa interviews and issuing visas, within the next 60 days, or the Order is extended even further or indefinitely.

The text of the Order states: “Whenever appropriate, but no later than 50 days from the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend whether I should continue or modify this proclamation.”

The Order also notes that additional measures may be taken. It reads, “Within 30 days of the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall review nonimmigrant programs and shall recommend to me other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers.”

If the suspension is extended beyond the 60-day period or widened to include nonimmigrant visa categories, this could slow down the restarting of routine in-person services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. In the meantime, Trump has issued guidelines for Opening Up America Again to state and local officials when “reopening their economies, getting people back to work, and continuing to protect American lives.”

The situation remains fluid. Whether the Trump Administration will extend the suspension on U.S. immigration or begin a suspension in nonimmigrant visa cases is uncertain at this point.

Persons who are eligible for adjustment to permanent residence (green card) within the United States are not affected by the Executive Order. USCIS is performing mission critical duties that do not involve contact with the public.

For example, it continues to issue receipt notices, requests for evidence, decisions and other notices for petitions and applications. Although USCIS has suspended in-person services through at least May 3, it is still accepting petitions (e.g. I-130 and I-140 petitions) and applications for processing. The scheduling of interviews and biometrics appointments with applicants will restart after normal operations resume.

###

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SUBSCRIBE           CONTACT